Eesti: Obnoxiously fabulous, or something like that!
I would not say that I’m the common type of student. My name is Valentin Châtelet, and as every regular fresh French young adult who used to live in the suburbs of Paris during their childhood, I went to study in the capital city when I turned 18. Yet all relevant comparison with my French peers ends at the very moment I became an undergraduate student in Estonian language in 2015.I’ve been studying Estonian language and culture at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations in Paris for two years now. And I must confess that all of this was completely unexpected.
I joined the course without any idea about Estonia, its culture and people. There I was, diving in the unknown waters of the Baltic Sea; back then my mom even considered that Estonia was closer to Japan and belonged to the Southern Hemisphere.
So one may rightfully ask, how would it even come to your mind to study Estonian? And there is no way I can answer this very question!
But rationally speaking let’s admit two advantages of learning Estonian : it’s a rare language (that sounds really beautiful), and that’s pretty much it! I might argue though, that it is a human-sized country, that you can wrap your mind around.
After a whole year at university I was given the opportunity to come and study Estonian language at Tallinn Summer School ; so I packed my stuff and jumped on the first plane headed to Eesti! Up until recently I wouldn’t have been able to explain with appropriate words what appealed to me about Estonia and its underrated culture. To the commonly asked question “Miks sa õpid eesti keelt?” I would casually answer “Noh, miks mitte?” (— Why do learn Estonian? — Well, why not?). I recently realized that music and culture were my main drive for the past two years. How could one resist the openness of Estonian language’s vowels? Amongst my favorite words and phrases are : „Sõida tasa üle silla“, or „Loojangu eel neelan õhku nagu veini“, and the words “vähk”, which basically translates as “cancer”.
Many of my friends back in France still consider Estonian as and Elvish-related language! Estonia and its people are entities of delicacy. The language of Estonia and the expression it embodies through songs, and national works of art attracts dozens of people from beyond the borders of the little state. Estonian literature is full of little poems, which depict with horror the destiny and the common feeling of deprivation felt by the Estonian community, but also their way of living. This came as a revelation to my ears when I listened to the poem „Sirelite Aegu“ by Marie Under, from the programme Sada luulepärli. Anyone with an interest in arts and literature should read and hear these poems.
Participating in Tallinn Summer School went beyond all my expectations. There are no place like this in this world. And I’ve come to a point where I’m thinking that you can only meet people as crazy as you in Estonia! There’s no other explanation for your encounter. The people I met here, and the staff that organized the whole Summer School, have taken a dear place in my heart. The bonds you create in Estonia, in places that shall not be regarded for their superhuman achievements but for the uniqueness of the landscape you can enjoy, are everlasting.
Never have I made so many friends in so little time, than in Estonia. Summer School is like a village of unknown and endless possibilities, with people from everywhere that I would have never met otherwise.
Now, let me tarnish the picture I made just a tad. As a foreigner I do get some obnoxious looks from locals wondering how in the world did I end up in Estonia. I even remember when a half-naked grandma watering her plants in the garden amidst rain, stopped and stared at me while I was over at my friends’ in Tartu. And despite this unpleasant incident I still look back at it, and think that I would get the same looks at home, although the context might be less cheesy!
My experience in 2016 drove me back here in 2017! The memories I’ve made here are unforgettable and there’s not much I can do, but advise you to come and see for yourself, what it takes to discover Estonia!
Author: Valentin Châtelet (Tallinn Summer School 2016/2017 participant)